Friday, December 4, 2015
S.C. Upholds Death Penalty in Shooting Deaths
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court upheld the death sentence yesterday for a man convicted of murdering his mother-in-law and brother-in-law in what prosecutors said was an effort to exact revenge after his wife left him and took their children.
Micky Ray Cage was sentenced to death by Riverside Superior Court Judge Dennis A. McConaghy on Nov. 14, 2003 for the shotgun slayings of his estranged wife’s 16-year-old brother, David Burgos, and their 50-year-old mother, Burnilda Montanez, called Bruni, in Moreno Valley on Nov. 9, 1998.
Jurors returned a death penalty verdict after finding Cage guilty of first degree murder with special circumstances of multiple murder and lying in wait.
Witnesses testified that Cage and been terrorizing his wife, Claribel Burgos, known as Clari, as well as his daughter and other family members, for years. Not long before the murders, Clari Burgos had taken her children and secretly traveled to Puerto Rico to stay with extended family members.
There was also testimony that Cage had threatened to injure or kill his mother-in-law, who was shot in the shoulder, chest, and face when she opened her front door. Her 16-year-old son was shot in the chest at close range in his upstairs bedroom.
Defense attorneys argued that the death sentence was an excessive penalty for what they claimed was a drug- and alcohol-fueled act of impulsive rage. But Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, in her opinion for a unanimous court, said the prosecution had proven otherwise.
“The record reflects that defendant lived with Bruni and her family on and off since he was a young teenager. To say he consistently abused Bruni’s hospitality is an understatement. The record is replete with evidence that over the course of many years, he subjected his wife Clari, her brothers, and his daughter to violent assault and various kinds of mistreatment at Bruni’s home, as well as elsewhere. He threatened and followed through with retaliation when he did not get his way. When Clari finally left him and took their children with her, the record reflects that defendant was angry and vengeful. He sought to harm Clari’s family, including Bruni. On the night of the crimes, the record indicates defendant was not very drunk and only a little high....Defendant was solely responsible for the brutal killings….He was 30 years old at the time and had a prior criminal record. The jury could have reasonably rejected defendant’s evidence of mental impairments based on the rebuttal evidence that defendant had deliberately feigned his mental illness. These circumstances do not demonstrate that defendant’s death sentence is grossly disproportionate to his personal culpability; it does not shock the conscience nor offend fundamental notions of human dignity.”
The chief justice rejected defense claims of evidentiary error, saying the trial judge was correct in allowing prosecutors to present evidence of the defendant’s past acts of violence toward, and mistreatment of, his wife and other family members.
Brushing aside the defense arguments that this was inadmissible evidence of a propensity toward violence, and that it was irrelevant, cumulative, and inflammatory, Cantil-Sakauye said the judge properly exercised his discretion to allow it “principally as evidence of motive, but also to establish identity and intent.”
The chief justice also said the trial judge did not err in allowing Clari Burgos to testify, in the guilt phase, as to how she reacted when she learned of the murders and how she reacted when they came to the scene, or in allowing her surviving brother to explain what he saw when her arrived at the house after the murders.
Rejecting the defense argument that this was “victim impact” testimony, which should not have been allowed prior to the guilt phase, the chief justice said it helped fill in the timeline and explain the context in which the victims were killed. The testimony “overwhelmingly” established that it was Cage who committed the murders, she said.
The case is People v. Cage, 15 S.O.S. 5768.
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